Comparing The Different Grades of Coconut Oil: Refined vs Virgin

Posted by Hannah Broaddus

Coconut Oil Virgin vs. RBD

If you walk down the oil aisle of any grocery store, you are bound to find a plethora of different coconut oils – it's one of the most popular oils in today's food market.

After being demonized in the 80s and 90s, scientists are now debunking the myth that it is unhealthy. Fans of coconut oil (especially in the snack food industry) are rejoicing this drastic shift in health and perception.

A common question that we get from food manufacturers who are choosing coconut oil as an ingredient is, which kind of coconut oil should we choose? There are multiple types, or grades, of coconut oil — just like olive oil. And it’s important to choose the right grade of coconut oil to meet both your product attribute needs and functionality. 

We will first go through the attributes of different types of coconut oil. These attributes will mix and match to create the different grades of coconut oil, which we’ll review afterwards.


The Attributes of Coconut Oil

Produced From Fresh Coconut Meat vs Copra

Virgin Coconut Oil is produced from the fresh meat of the coconut. This meat is usually dried and preserved before being turned into oil or it may be “wet milled”. Wet milling is when coconut meat is immediately pressed into coconut milk, and then the oil is separated out of that milk.

Refined coconut oils, in contrast, are produced from the copra of the coconut. The copra is the dried meat of the coconut that has been removed from the shell and dried or smoked and saved for longer periods of time for future use.

The copra meat is similar to olive pomace — it is more of a lower-quality commodity itself, while the fresh meat is more expensive and has to be freshly preserved to be expeller pressed soon after.


Refined vs Unrefined

Once produced, coconut oil can either be refined (like canola oil) or it can stay in its original unrefined state (like Extra Virgin Olive Oil). Unrefined oil maintains much of the coconut’s natural nutritional value (including polyphenols and antioxidants), so for that reason, many health experts recommend that consumers eat Virgin Coconut Oil in their home kitchens. 

The refining process is a high heat system that uses hot steam and filtering. It makes the oil more consistent, and also filters out solid particles of coconut. Refined coconut oil is bright white and when it’s in its solid state, it is consistent throughout (without the coconut particles common in virgin oil).

Virgin coconut oil is less consistent throughout, and also can have an off-white tint because it is in a completely natural state.

Coconut Oil Comparison


Expeller Pressed vs Solvent Expelled

Virgin Coconut Oil is expeller pressed and in addition, it is often cold pressed. The oil is extracted from fresh, mature coconut meat using an expeller press which physically squeezes the oil out. If it doesn’t use a traditional expeller press method, it will use a comparable centrifuge method which spins the oil out (like with Extra Virgin Olive Oil) or a natural method called “settling”. These are are cold pressed methods that don’t use any heat and nothing is added to make the oil — it is just physically pressed out. 

On the flip side, most RBD oils that are made from the coconut copra are solvent expelled, like Olive Pomace Oil, RBD Soybean or RBD Canola Oil. There are, however, some refined coconut oils that are expeller pressed, but they are more rare. 

You can safely assume that unless “expeller pressed” is called out in the title or description of the oil, it is probably a solvent expelled oil.


Virgin vs Extra Virgin

Coconut OilSurprisingly enough, the olive oil industry has muddled this one up!

With coconut oil, there is no extra virgin grade – only virgin. However, because many oil connoisseurs understand extra virgin to be the best grade of olive oil available, marketers have taken to labeling coconut oil as extra virgin as well.

Coconut governing bodies only recognize the virgin grade and don’t recognize extra virgin as a real grade (much less a better grade!).


Organic vs Conventional

Organic coconut oil is grown and produced organically. If the organic oil is refined, it is done so organically. 

Conventional is another term for non-organic coconut oil.


At A Glance: Comparing Virgin vs RBD Coconut Oil

Virgin Coconut Oil

  • Unrefined (not refined, bleached or deodorized)
  • Expeller pressed (mechanically produced, no chemicals used)
  • Made from fresh or dried coconut meat instead of copra
  • Antioxidant nutrition is maintained
  • Often cold pressed (but that doesn't necessarily mean better nutrition)
  • Strong coconut flavor
  • 76 degree melt point
  • Contains healthy MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) & lauric acid


Coconut RBD Oil

  • Refined, bleached and deodorized (RBD)
  • Made from "copra" instead of fresh or dried coconut meat
  • Most often solvent expelled (though expeller pressed method does exist)
  • Very little coconut flavor
  • 76 degree melt point
  • Contains healthy MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) & lauric acid

Other Coconut Oil Notes

There are currently no GMO varieties of coconut oil in existence. Therefore, all types of coconut oil are naturally non-GMO.

Very little pesticides are used in the coconut oil industry; coconut are not often sprayed because they are grown so high up in the air.

Topics: Coconut Oil



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